Defensive coordinator Terrence Hicks (left to right), former Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Michael Clayton and offensive coordinator Kenny Kelly were introduced at a school pep rally on April 1. (Photo courtesy of the Plant City football program.)

Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Michael Clayton has a storied career as a football player, winning a national championship with Louisiana State University in 2003 and a Super Bowl with the New York Giants in 2012. He was selected 15th overall in the first round of the 2004 NFL draft by the Bucs and played six seasons with the team. Clayton now looks to add to his crowded mantle, this time as the head football coach of the Plant City Raiders. 

Plant City Athletic Director Randall Humphrey said that the addition to the program has created a buzz within the school and the community.

“His accomplishments on the field really spoke for themselves,” said Humphrey. “His information and knowledge of football was clear, but when you really heard him speak to the heart of the student-athletes, the way he was able to speak directly to them really showed them instantaneously that he cared about them and that he would put together a program and pour all of his energy and effort into making sure they are successful in life.”

Clayton, who always wanted to become a head coach, was introduced as the Plant City head man on April 1 in front of a gym packed with Raiders students and fans. He has a passion to pass on what he’s learned to a younger generation of football players.

“Everything kind of aligned for me personally,” said Clayton. “I’m very lucky and very blessed to have the opportunity, and here we stand today, me being the head coach of Plant City High School.”

The Thonotosassa resident said that he’s had good and bad coaches, takes knowledge from the good coaches and doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. He cited his former coach, Nick Saban, as a strong influence and template on his teaching style and how he wants to run his own program. Clayton said his players not only benefit by learning proper football technique from the former pro, but he also teaches them valuable tools from the game that translate into life skills they can take with them for the rest of their lives to become productive members of society. He wants to develop them as football players and, more importantly, as good, well-rounded young men.

“I know how to motivate guys, being that every player that puts on pads, you don’t pay the price for no reason, you play the game to be the best at it, to win a championship,” said Clayton. “I’ve won a championship at the college level; I know what it takes to be the best in the world in college. I won a Super Bowl in the pros; I know what it takes to be a champion in the pros. I also know the lessons that I’ve lived in the past 20 years that I’ve learned from football, in terms of life skills.”

Clayton has a vested interested and a standard of excellence when it comes to his players doing well academically. He encourages them to sit at the front of the classroom and participate fully in class. Every teacher at the school has his cell phone number so that he can keep tabs on how his students are doing. He wants them to represent the football program well and become leaders amongst their peers in the classroom as well.

“The goal is to make academics a priority to make sure that if they desire to play the game of football, that they go through the full process of being great in every aspect of life, including academics and how to carry themselves outside of football,” said Clayton. “All of those things are going to help us build a foundation.”

The head coach has built a great coaching staff to help him spread his message. Former Wharton defensive coordinator Terrence Hicks brings a lot of experience and leadership, taking charge of the defense. Offensive coordinator Kenny Kelly, who played quarterback at the University of Miami and professional baseball, also coached in the college ranks as an offensive assistant at Florida International University. Plant City High School alumnus John Broome, who is a fixture within the Pop Warner community in the city, will be the junior varsity head coach. Clayton thinks that these hires will keep the top players from the area at the school and build a strong tradition of winning.

Clayton hopes to make the city proud and give fans of the team something to cheer about and have pride in. He knows that his program can bring a different energy to Plant City. A new artificial turf field is in the process of being added to the football facility, and the team will break out new uniforms as well. He relishes the opportunity for his team to compete against the tough gauntlet of Hillsborough County.

“We have to learn how to play football the right way,” said Clayton. “That’s goal number one, to set a standard of excellence in everything we do to finish hard for four quarters every time we get a chance to play. Obviously, the standard is set high to win every game that we play and to win a championship. Regardless of how young our players are, regardless of how inexperienced they are, the goal is to come together as a team and to win a championship, and I will hold them to that standard every single day.”

Clayton will be hosting a camp in the near future with other former NFL players to teach football fundamentals. For updates about the camp, follow Clayton on Twitter @MCListenUp.

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Nick Nahas has written for the Osprey Observer since 2016. He has lived in the Valrico area since 2002 and has his bachelor’s degree in mass communications from the University of South Florida. He is dedicated to covering sports in Hillsborough County at every level.